The Social Addiction - It's More Serious Than We Think

Posted on June 14th 2011

A recent study of college students around the world revealed some very troubling information regarding social media, media in general and the word "addiction." My guess is many of these findings can be applied ALL of us.

As usual there is no shortage of articles, stories and posts re: social media...

I recommend reading them all but today I wanted to share some disturbing news which came out of a recent study conducted by the International Center for Media & the Public Affairs (ICMPA) in partnership with the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change.

With a pool of nearly 1,000 college students in ten countries over five continents – including the US, the study sought to witness the effects of abstaining from social media and ALL media for a period of 24 hours.

The results are quite enlightening and shocking at the same time…

Here are some of the highlights or lowlights, depending on how you look at it:

  • The word “addiction” while not clinically relevant was surely on the minds of the students as this word came back repeatedly in responses. “I was itching, like a crackhead, because I could not use my phone.” – US student
  • Facebook is the social media “drug” of choice. There is no doubt that Facebook is really high profile in our daily life.” – Hong Kong student
  • But “Texting is the glue of social life.” “I found it hard not to text my boyfriend as I am so used to doing that as our main way of communicating during the day.” – UK student
  • A sense of isolation and loneliness came over many. “When I couldn’t communicate with my friends by mobile phone, I felt so lonely as if I was in a small cage on an island.” – China student
  • Envy led to hostility. "I realized that I was having hostile thoughts towards those students who were walking around texting. I was jealous of them and it literally felt like some sort of withdrawal.” – US student

Here's a grid which encapsulates other comments: (click on the grid itself to see the full image)


My first reaction after reading over all of the findings was ‘I think much of this is applicable to ALL social media and media users as a whole.’

My next thought was ‘how pathetic we’ve become.’ How utterly pathetic and dependent we’ve all become on technology, which is truly what this is all about. Technological advances are what allow us to do what we do, right?

From surfing the net to texting our buddies to Tweeting to Facebooking to Skypeing and on and on and on!

And I readily admit here and now in this very forum, I am an addict.

I realize part of my job requires me to be “online” in a myriad of ways but I am not so sure I could go 24 hours without using ANY form of media, my cell phone, my computer, etc.

Could you? 

Come clean, be honest and tell the truth… Could you go 24 straight hours without using your cell phone, without using your computer, without using your iPad or iPod?

Look, I am NOT saying I am opposed to technological advances… clearly I am not. So spare me those types of comments….

I am merely making the point of how dependent – and that truly is the operative word, we’ve become as a society.

My last thought on all this before I sat down to write this post was about my kids. I have an 11-year old daughter and 6-year old son. I wonder what the future holds for them re: technology and if they too, will be just as dependent as current college-aged kids and those older have clearly become.

My fear is they will… and quite frankly, already are.

Sources:  The Social Addiction – It’s More Serious Than We Think, the world UNPLUGGED, Huffington Post, memeburn, Marketing Profs, CNN, Inside Facebook, Google Images

steve olenski

Steve Olenski

A regular contributor to Forbes, among other publications, Steve was named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred. He is a also a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing and co-author of the book StumbleUpon For Dummies. Follow him on Twitter@steveolenski or at the nearest coffee shop.The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle Marketing Cloud.

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Posted on June 14th 2011 at 2:34PM

Human beings are social animals. We're addicted to being connected to other people. If dominant forms of communication and connection today include various social media services and other digital technologies, should we surprised when users mourn their disappearance? Wouldn't we have the same sort of reactions regarding disconnection if we were suddenly struck deaf, blind, or mute?

Just thinking out loud here...

Posted on June 14th 2011 at 8:16PM


I typically log more than 4 hours each day during weekdays on Facebook and Twitter. But I sometimes can go an entire weekend without logging into or using any tech device/website. When I shut down, I shut down completely with no problems.

Then again, I do live in The Bahamas.

Cue Social Media
Posted on June 15th 2011 at 5:41AM

Whilst I do not like to do too often or without prior knowledge, I can go 24 - 28 hours without technology. If I go to the beach for the weekend there is no internet connection and limited cell phone coverage so when I go I know it's a tech-free time. I plan for it. I enjoy it. After all, it's all still here when I get back. This does help to counteract the sometimes 16-18 hours online when I am full on immersed in my online work.

Posted on June 15th 2011 at 11:38AM

The only time I really disconnect is when on vacation, and even then the smartphone is available.  I'll be honest, I don't feel like going back and living in the 90s again.

Posted on June 15th 2011 at 11:48AM

@steveolenski - Good post and interesting findings!

I spend at least 4 hours/day 5 days/week online, I carry two mobile handsets and an iPad almost everywhere. When Facebook came around I was attending university, and almost all of my friends were using it (back when it was only available for those with a *.edu email address).

That said, I have no problem with leaving all of my connected devices at home during weekends, when on vacation, or when spending time with my family. I realize that many people (especially those who don't remember a time before ever-connected devices) may find doing so (spending time without their connected devices) a lot more challenging, however, I'm not sure if the addiction at-hand is as prevalent as this post describes for those of us who primarily use our connected devices for work-related activities.

Do you (@steveolenski) primarily use your connected devices for work-related or personal tasks, and do you think that makes a difference with respect to this addicion?


Posted on June 16th 2011 at 4:47AM

Intriguing... now I wonder if social media is an addiction, what exactly is the cure?  I've tried to stay away from social networking for a day and wow, I've missed a lot that it can trigger some kind of a panic attack.  I guess, social media is addictive because of that sense of freedom where you feel like you're transported in this 'digital world' where you can become anyone you want - at a touch of a key.  Do we blame these social media platforms then, or the devices on which they are running?

Posted on June 17th 2011 at 5:10PM
Yes and no. I could maybe stay away from friends and most family, but having school-age kids with caregivers, camps, etc....I have to have my phone with me. For that occasional emergency pick-up. Another interesting point is that current work environments in high-tech, at least, encourage collaboration and walking around - it's hard to find me or a colleague at our desk.
Posted on June 18th 2011 at 9:08AM

I went tech free for a week last year Jan 1 - 7 2010. It was hard and it did feel like withdrawal. After 2 days it was actually a welcome absence, not rushing up to jump on the computer. Unfortunately, like any addict, on day 8 i jumped on and don't think I've been off since!

Posted on June 18th 2011 at 10:23PM

The point here is missed. by each and every one of you. The core issue is one of stimulation input. Not media, social or otherwise. That's only a byproduct. Over stimulation negatively affects the nervous system, brain and heart rate. 

Posted on June 19th 2011 at 4:46PM

You're absolutely right. We never find a hiatus from stimulation. We don't take breaks that give our mind rest. On our breaks we check Facebook, Twitter, news sources, our phones, anthing but mental repose. In waiting rooms we now surf the web on our phones or iPads. We don't take walks or workout without music playing in our ears or reading books on a treadmill. We need our brains to stop, and without stopping our brains we have unchecked anxiety and so on. A feeling of need instead of want. Even as a social media professional, I find repose even if I have to force it on myself.

Posted on June 20th 2011 at 12:22AM

I find this trend very disturbing for several reasons. First, much of the communication via these technologies is quite shallow, and it encourages people to falsely equate tweets to the Many as having the same value as knowing a real friend. Second, it's a huge distraction that takes people away from things that are truly important, such as helping our planet and helping each other. Third, it distracts people from developing themselves, their talents, and their minds.

I remember a Star Trek epidode where the entire ship became addicted to a little meaningless game, and there was no one left who even cared about running the ship. Only Data was unaffected. If not for Data using his wits to unhook the crew from their addiction, the Enterprise would have self-destructed. Sometimes I wonder: Is planet Earth on a similar course? I hope not. I hope people wake up and see what's TRULY valuable, and then take the necessay steps to take care of it.

Posted on June 20th 2011 at 6:04AM

Every now and then I feel quite sick from over stimulation. I can't even read a book. it's like a migraine without the pain. I just stay in doors with the curtains closed for a day.

More positively I'm sometimes just bored with my black boxes so I take the weekend off and go off on an adventure in the woods or something. I don't carry a mobile phone very often.

Either I'm very old fashioned or my brain just cannae take it cap'n....

Posted on June 20th 2011 at 7:38PM

Great article Steve. Our societal dependence on technology is very alarming, in particular, technology that promotes myopic behavior. I should be designed to help us do what we do more effectively...not completely dominate our lives.

I am not a tech junky. I can do without Facebook, Twiiter, email-checking and Internet surfing for more that 24 hours. If I don't go online or plug into any other device for two to three days at time, I'm just fine.

Everything in moderation...that's my way of



Posted on June 22nd 2011 at 11:26AM

Also in the Netherlands, reports and articles have been written about Facebook addiction, for example

Posted on June 22nd 2011 at 1:58PM

I can and do. If you're in social media or marketing - which is part of what I do - you can still unplug and just be a person. I plan "outages" regularly so that I can interface with the world in a different way, and remind myself of my own humanity. But to really stretch as a person, you need to make sure your internal resources are in good working order.

It's interesting how many people are conscious of this on a physical level and work out consistently, but don't make sure they aren't dependent on a device.  It's so easy to immediately turn to something external- a phone, a pill, a person- to solve a problem or to find a solution.

You can get addicted to anything: nose spray or behaviors like texting. Online, you can take and leave what you like and still be free of addiction, or you can be embedded like a tick in the internet stream of information. Your depth of involvement is a choice. How far you allow yourself to go is up to you.

Gregory Stringer
Posted on July 6th 2011 at 2:35AM